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Trade Unions


Union density is higher in Romania than in most Central and Eastern European countries, with between a fifth and a quarter of all employees in unions. The structures are fragmented, with five separate confederations, CNSLR-Frăţia, BNS CNS Cartel Alfa, CSDR and CSN Meridian. Each has broadly similar membership levels and a wide spread of affiliated federations.

There are around 1.3 million trade unionists in Romania. The figures are reasonably precise, as union confederations must provide details of their membership as part of the process of gaining national representative status, and these figures are published on the website of the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection.[1]


The total membership of the five main union confederations (four dating from late 2019 or early 2020 and one from 2016) is 1,332,400. This is equivalent to 26.8% of all Romanian employees at the end of 2019, using the figures from the Monthly statistical bulletin.[2]  The 2019 Eurofound estimate for union density is slightly lower at 23%.[3]  However, this lower percentage is the result of using a higher figure for the total number of employees. The independent ICTWSS database also uses a higher figure for the total number of employees. It puts union density in Romania at 20.0% in 2016.[4]


The five main union confederations are all of broadly similar size, and, given the requirement to have at least 5% of total employment in membership to be nationally representative (see below), they all need to have at least around 250,000 members in order to retain that status. Currently, the largest is CNSLR- Frăţia, with 304,842 members.[5] It developed from a merger of the former official trade union movement (CNSLR) with another confederation (Frăţia) in 1990. BNS, which had its founding congress in 1991, is in second place in membership terms, with 259,428 members in 2019.[6] CNS Cartel Alfa, which was set up in 1990, has 258,099 members.[7] CSDR, which emerged after a split in CNSLR-Frăţia in 1994, is very slightly smaller, with 255,757 members.[8]  CSN Meridian, which was set up in 1994, is now the smallest of the five, although the gap between it and CSDR is very small. It had 254,280 members at the start of 2020.[9]


These five confederations all meet the conditions to be considered as representative at national level, giving them a place in the country’s tripartite consultative structure (see section on collective bargaining). As well as having at least 5% of Romania’s employees in membership, nationally representative unions must meet certain formal legal obligations and have local structures in more than half the country’s 41 counties plus the capital Bucharest.


A study on Romania unions published by the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) in 2016 found that there was no “significant difference [between the confederations] in terms of doctrine, affiliated sectors or composition”.[10] However, as the same study pointed out, there have been links between the confederations and political parties, despite a formal prohibition on trade unions carrying out political activities. The largest confederation, CNSLR-Frăţia has traditionally been close to the social democratic party PSD, and signed a new agreement with the party in November 2019, with both sides emphasising their close cooperation over 30 years.[11] BNS, which in 2004 signed an agreement with a right-wing party the PRM to gain representation in parliament, no longer has these links, although it has criticised the social democratic party for moving away from its traditional partners in the trade union movement.[12]


CSN Meridian and CSDR have no clear party-political position, and Cartel Alfa emphasises on its website that is “totally independent of government or political groups”.[13] In autumn 2019, when PSD was looking for union support for its “Pact for the welfare of Romanians” Cartel Alfa rejected the plan and criticised the party as hypocritical and populist.[14] Cartel Alfa has also criticised other confederations claiming that they have traded union support for political positions for senior union leaders.[15]


All the confederations have several industry federations affiliated to them, which are detailed in the documents submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (see above). CNSLR-Frăţia has 14 affiliated industry federations, of which the largest by far is the health services union Federatia Sanitas, with 101,248 members, a third (33%) of the confederation’s total membership. BNS has 29 affiliated federations and its membership is more evenly split between them. The largest BNS affiliate is the construction and construction material union FGS Familia, with 32,318 members, although the manufacturing union, IndustriALL-BNS, with 31,769, has almost as many . Cartel Alfa has 39 affiliated federations, and its largest single affiliate, with 43,975 members is the police union, SNPCC. CSDR has 16 affiliated industry federations, and the largest is the teachers’ union FSLI with 173,000, two-thirds (68%) of its total membership.. Finally, CNS Meridian has 29 affiliated federations and the largest is SCMD which has 33,661 members and represents military staff.  All five confederations also have local structures in most of Romania’s counties.


The federations themselves typically bring together large numbers of small unions, which often only cover a single employer. (Unions can be set up by a minimum of 15 people working at the same workplace.) One of the consequences of this is that unions are fragmented with competition for membership and local unions will sometimes move from one federation to another.


There have been attempts to bring the confederations together in the past. The most recent was at the end of 2011 when BNS announced that it wanted to create a new union structure. Talks were started with both CNRLR-Frăţia and Cartel Alfa, although CNRLR-Frăţia rapidly withdrew. In 2012, BNS and Cartel Alfa announced that they planned to merge in 2013 but these plans were abandoned before the end of the year. 


Overall trade union membership in Romania has declined since the beginning of the 1990s as the economic role of the state has been cut back and union influence has been curtailed, particularly by the 2011 Social Dialogue Act.


As well as reducing their role in collective bargaining and the protection for workplace representatives (see sections on collective bargaining and workplace representation), the Social Dialogue Act has also made it more difficult for unions to organise in smaller companies. Following the Act, a union can only be set where 15 individuals in the same workplace agree to do so, but before the Act it was possible to set up a union with 15 individuals in the same industry but in different workplaces.  


The unions are currently (June 2020) supporting draft new legislation on social dialogue that would reduce the threshold for setting up a union from 15 to 10 employees and also make it possible to set up a union if at least 20 employees from the same industry, but in more than one workplace, wished to do so.[16]


As in many other countries, union membership in Romania is now higher in the public sector than in the private sector, and the largest union federations are in education – FSLI with 173,000 members – and health – Sanitas, with 101,248 members. This is in contrast with the past. In 2002, a study by an employers’ association study found that trade union density was at 85% in extractive industries, 83% in the metalworking industry, and 76% in the chemicals industry, compared with only 30% in public administration.[17]


There is only limited data on the proportion of women in trade unions. The membership figures submitted to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection do not include a breakdown by sex, and the information provided to the ETUC’s annual gender equality survey is not up to date. The latest available figures show that 47% of CNRLR-Frăţia’s membership was female in 2016, 40% of the membership of BNS in 2015 and 40% of the membership of Cartel Alfa in 2013.[18] CSDR has never provided this breakdown, and CNS Meridian is not affiliated to the ETUC.

[1] http://dialogsocial.gov.ro/organizatii-sindicale/  

[2] Table 54 Monthly statistical bulletin, National Institute of Statistics December 2019. This states that the total number of employees in the economy was 4,973,000 on 31 December 2019. https://insse.ro/cms/sites/default/files/field/publicatii/buletin_statistic_lunar_nr12_2019.pdf (Accessed 03.08.2020) However, the press release for employment and unemployment for the fourth quarter of 2019, also from the National Institute of Statistics states the total number of employees was 6,686,000  https://insse.ro/cms/sites/default/files/com_presa/com_pdf/somaj_tr4e_19_0.pdf (Accessed 03.08.2020) One reason for the substantial difference between the two figures is that the higher figure includes military and security staff and individuals working in the informal and underground exconomy.

[3] Living and workin in Romania: actors and institutions by Victoria Stoiciu, November 2019  https://www.eurofound.europa.eu/country/romania#actors-and-institutions (Accessed  03.08.2020)

[4] Jelle Visser, ICTWSS Data base. Version 6.1. Amsterdam: Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies AIAS. October 2019

[5] Document presented to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (24.02.2020)  http://dialogsocial.gov.ro/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/2020-CNSLR-Fratia-partea-I.pdf  (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[6] Document presented to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (07.10.2019)   http://dialogsocial.gov.ro/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/2019-Blocul-National-Sindical.pdf (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[7] Document presented to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (09.09.2019) http://dialogsocial.gov.ro/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/2019-Confederatia-Nationala-Sindicala-Cartel-ALFA-partea-I.pdf (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[8] Document presented to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (04.11.2016)    http://dialogsocial.gov.ro/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/2016-sindicat-Confedera%C5%A3ia-Sindicatelor-Democratice-din-Rom%C3%A2nia.pdf  (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[9] Document presented to the Ministry of Labour and Social Protection (10.01.2020) http://dialogsocial.gov.ro/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/2020-Confederatia-Sindicala-Nationala-Meridian-Partea-I.pdf (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[10] Romania’s Trade Unions at the Crossroads, by Victoria Stociu, Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung, November 2016 http://library.fes.de/pdf-files/id-moe/12924-20161123.pdf (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[11] Sindicatele din CNSLR Frăția se aliază oficial cu PSD, după ce PNL a preluat guvernarea, Newsweek Romania 06.11.2019 https://newsweek.ro/politica/sindicatele-din-cnslr-fratia-se-aliaza-oficial-cu-psd (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[12] BNS Press release 02.10.2019 https://bns.ro/info-bns/516-comunicat-de-presa-blocul-national-sindical-impreuna-cu-celelalte-confederatii-sindicale-reprezentative-a-participat-astazi-2-octombrie-2019-la-o-intalnire-cu-conducerea-partidului-social-democrat  (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[13] Cartel Alfa website: https://www.cartel-alfa.ro/ro/valori-si-prioritati-64/ and Financial Intelligence 27.11.2019 https://financialintelligence.ro/cartel-alfa-reprezentarea-corecta-a-membrilor-de-sindicat-este-incompatibila-cu-aranjamentele-politice-pentru-obtinerea-unor-functii/

[14] Sindicalistii nu sunt de acord cu pactul lui Dancila. Cartel ALFA: Un document ipocrit, populist. Si BNS il vrea modificat, ziare.com 18 Sepetmber 2019 https://ziare.com/vasilica-viorica-dancila/premier/sindicalistii-nu-sunt-de-acord-cu-pactul-lui-dancila-un-document-ipocrit-populist-1577875 (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[15] Cartel Alfa: Reprezentarea corectă a membrilor de sindicat este incompatibilă cu aranjamentele politice pentru obținerea unor funcții, Financial Intelligence, 27.11.2019 https://financialintelligence.ro/cartel-alfa-reprezentarea-corecta-a-membrilor-de-sindicat-este-incompatibila-cu-aranjamentele-politice-pentru-obtinerea-unor-functii/ (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[16] De ce se tem patronii: Propunere de lege prin care angajații vor putea să-și facă mai ușor sindicate reprezentative, startupcafe, 22.06.2020 https://www.startupcafe.ro/taxe/propunere-lege-sindicat-firma.htm (Accessed 03.08.2020)

[17] Patronate si Sindicate in Romania, UGIR-1903, 2005

[18] ETUC Annual Gender Equality Survey 2019 – 12th edition, by Lionel Fulton and Cinzia Sechi, ETUC, April 2019  https://www.etuc.org/sites/default/files/circular/file/2019-05/ETUC_Annual_Equality_Survey%202019_FINAL_EN.pdf  (Accessed 03.08.2020) 

L. Fulton (2021) National Industrial Relations, an update (2019-2021). Labour Research Department and ETUI (online publication). Online publication available at http://www.worker-participation.eu/National-Industrial-Relations.